How Clothing Suppliers Should Respond to a PR Crisis

In the fashion industry, public relations is an essential discipline for companies. Whenever there is a crisis, retailers’ PR teams go out of their way. Their role is simple: to protect reputations.

But what about suppliers? How do clothing suppliers in Bangladesh handle a PR crisis? Right now, I would say, pretty badly. I wouldn’t expect small apparel companies to have a PR expert or hire a PR agency. Even among major apparel suppliers, however, public relations management appears to be poor and reactive rather than proactive and decisive. This must change.

First, vendors need to have a strategy in place. This involves different people within the company with designated roles. Who will be the spokesperson? Who will deal with the media? How will the messaging be delivered? Will an outside agency be used or will all PR issues be handled internally? When should he “talk” and when should there be “no comment”?

In my experience, our suppliers often do not comment on news stories where they are affected. There is perhaps a distrust of Western media and the fear that commenting publicly could make matters worse.

While understandable, an unwillingness to speak and engage with the media can be seen as a sign of having something to hide, which is not a good look.

If a PR crisis occurs, a business owner should be proactive and attempt to establish some control over messaging. They can do this by issuing a clear and precise statement. Any statement can begin by acknowledging the current situation. Establish empathy with the reader to begin with. Then explain in clear terms what actions are being taken to remedy the situation. Use clear and unambiguous language. Try to avoid executive language or corporate jargon, as this will simply alienate people.

After acknowledging a situation or problem and explaining how it is handled, you can take the opportunity to reinforce any other key messages. So, for example, if the issue in question concerns business ethics, one could use the statement to describe how their company has a clear policy on business ethics and social issues and highlight any work that has been done in this area.

Statements should be posted on social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. A copy of the statement should be posted on the company’s website, as this is the first place journalists and other interested stakeholders will go when trying to find out more.

The benefits of issuing a statement are that, firstly, it gives owners some control over messaging and, secondly, it saves them having to talk to a lot of media outlets. We can simply refer them to the declaration. A statement also makes it clear to the outside world that the company is taking the issue seriously and not just hiding.

There should be a designated media spokesperson and all other staff should defer to him and direct any media inquiries to him. Unauthorized personnel should not speak to the media under any circumstances. As we all know, the media can build a great story out of one or two off-the-cuff remarks.

Two other important aspects of PR crisis management are speed and repetition. The importance of a quick and decisive early message cannot be underestimated. Often, when people make up their minds about things, it is very difficult to change them. A company must therefore send its message or statement as soon as possible. This will help the company own the story.

Repetition is also vital. In any press release, having a few key points and repeating them is effective. Soon these points will start to sink into people’s minds, even on a subliminal level. Vague, fuzzy and inconsistent messages will have little or no impact.

As apparel suppliers, we’ve had years of conversations or crises where we didn’t have much to say or didn’t want to respond. As Bangladesh becomes more outward looking, it is time for that to change. We cannot continue to be passive spectators while the rest of the world talks about us or public relations crises unfold. We must be proactive in telling our side of the story – quickly, clearly and decisively.

Mostafiz Uddin is Managing Director of Denim Expert Limited. He is also the founder and CEO of Bangladesh Denim Expo and Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE).

Michael O. Stutler